Steve Bugeja: From Bishop's Stortford High School to Edinburgh, Mock the Week, Harry Kane and Love Island
Since winning the BBC New Comedy Award in 2013, former Bishop's Stortford High School boy Steve Bugeja has taken three critically-acclaimed shows to the Edinburgh Fringe, written for TV shows including Mock The Week, 8 Out Of 10 Cats and Russell Howard's Good News, and been involved in a Lucozade TV ad with England striker Harry Kane.
He even appeared on ITV2’s hit series Love Island over the summer. Currently touring his 2017 Fringe show, Summer Camp, Tom Ryder caught up with him ahead of his tour date at Rhodes in Stortford on Wednesday (October 25)...
What role did the boys’ high school play in your career?
I remember vividly the first joke I told in front of an audience. It was at awards evening in sixth form. I got a laugh and it felt amazing. At that moment I made the decision: ‘I want to do that’. It felt better than anything in my life. I did debating at school, which definitely helped my public speaking ability, but I didn’t do stand-up until I got to uni.
How was your first gig?
The first stand-up gig I did was at the noisy student union bar where I used to drink. It was my local and all my friends were there, so it was quite high risk! Luckily all my friends are nice though and they laughed. I started doing a lot of open mic nights around the North West after that, at places like Rochdale, Oldham and parts of Yorkshire.
How big a boost was the 2013 BBC Comedy Award?
Winning the competition was a massive help. If I hadn’t won, I don’t think I would have been able to continue; I think I would have quit comedy altogether. Doing the open mic stuff is really difficult because you just feel like you’re getting nowhere. You need a break and someone who believes in you. The prize was to receive some advice from a producer, and that producer has ended up being one of my best friends. He really knows what he’s talking about and has steered my career from then on.
Tell us about the writing…
I’ve written for various TV programmes, including Mock The Week and 8 Out Of 10 Cats. I’ve also written for Iain Stirling on his new TV show, and I’m working on the new Russell Howard show on Sky One. Each week I sit in an office with Russell and three other writers and we come up with all of these jokes, mainly about Theresa May! It’s nice to (almost) have a 9-to-5 job. I get a taste of normality two days a week, and I like the security that offers. The other night I went to the broadcast, and to hear Russell deliver a joke you’ve written is great. But nothing compares to the enjoyment of stand-up. Telling a new joke to an audience is the most fun thing in the world.
How does being on TV compare to regular stand-up?
TV is a whole different ball game to stand-up. TV gigs aren’t like normal gigs because the crowd is not so instant and in the moment. On TV it’s really important that you look like you’re enjoying it the whole time! The cameras will pick up any hint that you’re not. The live gig is more relaxed, whereas for TV you’ve got to be so regimented and scripted.
The advert I did with Harry Kane for Euro 2016 was good because we could improvise and it wasn’t live; you could mess around more and it was edited. But the stand-up bit I did on Love Island was literally live television, so I had to be really careful about what I said. It was terrifying!
What has been your career high so far?
A definite highlight was going to the Melbourne Comedy Festival earlier this year. That was pretty incredible. The idea that someone would fly me to the other side of the world to do comedy is mind-blowing. We had a really great month of playing every single night in these lovely rooms. The Aussies are a really nice audience.
And the low points?
The long drives home on a Friday night when all your friends are out drinking and you’re driving back from a rubbish gig and you feel like you’re wasting your life – those moments are not so fun. There’s a big misconception and I think people see comedy as a lot more glamorous than it actually is. It’s basically delivery driving. I drive round and deliver jokes to various parts of the country. I spend a lot of time in the car, and my knowledge of the UK train network is incredible! The perfect image of the comedian is someone in their car surrounded by fast food wrappers. As bleak as I can make it sound though, I love it.
How important is the Edinburgh Fringe for a comedian?
The Fringe is just the best. It’s stressful leading up to it because you have to write a new show, but when you’re up there it’s really good fun. There’s no driving, no service stations. You’re in the same venue every night, you do the gig, people enjoy it and you can go and have a drink with your friends. I would liken it to exam season. Everyone builds up to it and then there’s a big party afterwards. Comedians are never in the same place at the same time, so that’s why Edinburgh is so nice. The show that I’m doing at the Rhodes centre is my third solo show at the Edinburgh Fringe. The first one was ‘Day Release’, the second one was ‘Unpronounceable’ and this one is ‘Summer Camp’.
You played the Leicester Square theatre last Friday. How was it?
The Leicester Square gig was the biggest I’ve done and was one of the best nights of my life. Tickets sold really well. I had to relearn my show, having not done it for about a month. I absolutely loved it, and it was so good to have so many familiar faces there.
What has been your involvement with the Stortford comedy circuit?
I’ve been hosting a regular comedy night at Rhodes for the last year or so. That’s been really well attended, which is why I’ve chosen to do the tour date there. It’s good to see that there’s more comedy on in the town than there was in the past. The Half Moon has been good; John Mann is a very supportive comedian and has been running comedy shows in Stortford for years. He’s a great guy. Another comedy night happening in Stortford is The Laughing Bishops, run by Paddy Lennox; he tends to pack it out every month. So comedy in Stortford is doing well at the moment – when I started gigging, there was nothing going on. I’m looking forward to performing a full show at Rhodes.
What advice would you give to a young comedian?
I would recommend that everyone does a stand-up gig, even if you’re not going to pursue it as a career. It gives you such a confidence boost. Obviously it’s not easy, but the feeling you get after it, you can’t beat it. The best advice I was given was to gig and gig. Never stop. Eventually it will fall into place.
* Steve Bugeja is performing his ‘Summer Camp’ show at Rhodes on Wednesday October 25 at 8pm. Tickets are available from rhodesbishopsstortford.org.uk for £12, or £10 for students. Head to stevebugeja.com to find out more.
* Tom Ryder is one half of transatlantic duo Lozt, with American Lauren Scudder. Follow them on Twitter at @loztmusic